In Wisdom Walk Sage Bennet asks, “How would our lives be different if we surrendered to prayer five times a day as the Muslims do? Islam reminds us to cultivate a life of prayer. Prayer is a way of remembering that we are connected to an infinite presence—call this God, Allah, compassion, or love…. We can renew ourselves throughout the day with fresh waters of the spirit; prayers washes away the rust and grit of daily life that can harden the heart” (50).
Prayers are generally directed toward a deity, goddess, or object of worship. Some times prayers are petitions directed toward some higher power, but prayers can also be vehicles for gratitude for the many good things in our lives. There are prayers of praise, confession, contemplation and intersession. As Unitarian Universalists many of us have given up or not developed a life of prayer because our personal creed doesn’t allow for any one or any thing for prayer to be directed to. In addition, as Bennet says, “the prospect of surrender conjures up images of defeat, giving up, relinquishing our power” (53). In general, we don’t like the thought of surrendering to any body or any thing. Yet it is possible to direct our prayful thoughts not to some external being but to our own inner or higher self, that deepest part of our being that can life us up beyond our mundane thoughts and actions.
Islam and many other traditions rely on prescribed prayers. The Quran beginsIn the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds; Most Gracious, Most Merciful; You do we worship, and Your aid do we seek. Show us the straight way. The way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, those whose portion is not wrath, and who do not do astray.
Other traditions leave room from spontaneous prayers. If you decide to engage in this spiritual exercise you can chose to use a prescribed prayer, a spontaneous prayer or some combination of prescribed and spontaneous prayer. You might want to incorporate prayers from several different traditions.
To make this exercise work you need to carve out time in your life to pray. It is helpful to choose the time or times you’re going to pray. Perhaps you’ll plan on praying once a day, first thing in the morning, before a meal, as a break in the late afternoon, before or after dinner or before retiring for the night. Like the Muslims you may chose to pray multiple times a day. Short prayers at specific points in your life will help you create a structure for your prayer experience.
You can pray silently or out loud. You might chant or sing prayers or hymns from your past or from a tradition you find inspiring. You can pray alone or with others. You might want to ask your partner or other family members to join you during your prayer session. Regardless of how you pray, leave yourself some quiet time at the end of your prayer session.
It is also helpful to have a specific place to pray. Muslims use a prayer rug to define sacred space for their prayers. They also have a pre-prayer ritual of taking off their shoes, washing their arms, head, face, and feet. You might also want to choose one or more specific places to pray. You might also want to develop a ritual for beginning your prayers. Lighting a candle, putting on or taking off specific articles of clothing (shoes, a light shawl, a special necklace or bracelet, etc.), playing specific music, calling the directions, or another similar activity might help you get into the appropriate frame of mind for prayer.
Although they might pray in other ways, for Muslims the movements of Salat is the most important form of prayer. Each phrase of this prayer is accompanied by specific bodily movements. If you want to experiment with this form of prayer, there are sites on the internet that can teach you the movements. “How to Pray like a Muslim” (http://www.quran.org/salathow.htm) is one such site. Sufis dance their prayers. You might also want to experiment with incorporating movement into your prayers. Perhaps you will decide to pray during your daily walk or run or swim or while you’re cooking or cleaning up. You might want to dance, whirl or add hand movements to your prayers.
You might use prayer beads to structure your prayers. Both Catholic and Buddhist traditions use strung beads to bring a tactile involvement to their prayers. In the book Everyday Spiritual Practice Erik Walker Wikstrom suggests creating your own set of prayer beads. You can use any commonly available beads of different sizes and types to construct a personalized set of prayer beads. Again a Google search on “prayer beads” will bring up a myriad of sites for either making or buying a set.
One of Sage’s ideas is to create a portable prayer collection. She suggest that you collect favorite prayers from your childhood, prayers from other traditions you’ve encountered throughout your life, even your own personal prayers. Keeping these different prayers together in a notebook, or pouch, or other container might help you as you begin to experience your own submission to prayer.
Have you attempted to add some sort of prayer experience to your life? How did it go? Were you comforted or uncomfortable with prayer? Let us know in the comments.